November 14th, 2008 by Bill Keitel
Worthington should be proud of ‘accommodating spirit’
Bill Keitel, Worthington
Worthington Daily Globe – 10/06/2006
I travel quite a bit during the summer, attending art festivals throughout the Midwest. When people ask me where I am from, I explain to them that I am from a community that has one of the largest minority populations in the Midwest (if not the nation). I say this with unabashed pride.
Worthington has absorbed an incredible number of immigrants and refugees over the past three decades. We have had numerous problems over the years but have dealt with them in an open and honest manner. Should that cause us embarrassment? Or should we recognize that most people in our community strive to be accommodating?
Often times, in larger cities the immigrant population becomes invisible by staying within its neighborhood confines. Worthington doesn’t have that social phenomena because we are a smaller community. It is not easy to be anonymous.
I enjoy my walk to work in the morning. One day, not too many years ago, I realized that if you had a hankerin’, you could say hello to my neighbors in six different languages (and I only live two or three blocks from work!) I set about doing just that.
To my Lao friends, I say congratulations on your business enterprise and also to your bright and beautiful children — Sym Baidee (hello)! I always enjoy your New Year’s celebration and appreciate being invited. While crossing the Lake Okabena “fishing grade” I often say “duk behet pah” (How’s fishing?) They laugh — they are much better learning English than I am learning Lao.
My Vietnamese friends can expect to hear a “djow go” or a “djowbye” from me as they pass. They, too, are fully assimilated and needn’t hear my feeble attempts at their language, but appreciate my acknowledgement and interest in them.
I stop by to see my Guatemalan friends, I play slide guitar, they play a handmade marimba built by their uncle. Our “musica tropicale” is a bit sloppy and not too precise, but we have fun. I will stop by again, and we will get better.
My Sudanese friends fleeing from Akobo and Malakahl — (white and Blue Nile region) have endured a decade of incredible hardship in Minnesota. Their eldest child, an honor student and perhaps the next Barack Obama, is a great source of pride. They laugh at me when I say “Beh too’ neigh yat-jel” (let’s stick together).
We stumble when trying to understand each other. I find it important to be able to say “I don’t understand, tell me” again and again. We laugh, comfortable in friendship.
Many have asked to explain a particular word in English. I find it important to do the same with them. I say “I don’t understand tell me again” is how to speak Amharic language.
My immigrant and refugee friends mean a great deal to me. I watch them as they strive, as they achieve, as they occasionally fail. Because of their persistence, I think more of them, not less.
Certainly as a community, we have our faults and our shortcomings. However, we most often continue to address these concerns and strive to grow in a manner with which we should be proud. We are a smart, rich, and adaptable community that can afford to extend our friendships.
Worthington has many, many claims to fame. I believe that our most lasting and important claim will be the accommodating spirit that we have shown our new friends.